‘A GIGANTIC construction moves serenely through space where, though the night never ends, there’s always enough light to see strange objects… shots of blinking instrument panels, of wildly bleeping computers, of cryptic messages clattering in square type-faces across television screens… a gothic set in space‘.
…So were the words of Vincent Canby of the New York Times in his 1979 review of Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’. Fast forward some 40 years and the same passage could equally be applicable to a work of its own groundbreaking nature – welcome to the final part of Megabites’ series, describing the behind the scenes tale of the making and release of TiTAN demogroup’s Overdrive 2 for the Sega Mega Drive.
In part one of this article we left the group on a cliffhanger. Nigh on two years had been spent by TiTAN’s members to realise a sequel to their groundbreaking demo ‘Overdrive‘, a pulverising powerhouse of a demo, whose follow-up saw its genesis with the discovery of a groundbreaking graphical technique hidden deep within the recesses of the Mega Drive’s video chip. New discoveries, new possibilities, stunning graphics, and nail-biting deadlines ensued. TiTAN had an awe-inspiring 16-bit vision. But could it possibly be realised?
Let’s dive straight in and catch up with the group members Kabuto, oerg866, Medo, alien and Neoman. Overdrive 2’s first public unveiling at Cologne’s Evoke 2016 demo party was mere hours away. Yet, a tough decision had to be made.
A revision to the plan
oerg866: Neoman, Kabuto, Medo and I sat down at a quiet table in the corner of the Evoke party hall and discussed what to do with the demo.
Kabuto: With still only 60% of the demo fully complete, we simply had to postpone. We didn’t have a good feeling about the demo and we felt that we could do way better. It was a tough decision.
By then we had two Evoke-themed artworks, which we had no choice but to drop and eventually redesign.
And so the group set about their work, working relentlessly to do their sequel justice. The next opportunity to showcase their demo was the Revision 2017 demo party in Saarbrücken.
Medo: In the week leading up to Revision, we rented a house in Alkmaar in the Netherlands to really bring the demo together. After days of furious around-the-clock coding, pixelling, animating and testing, we’d made a lot of progress. Large parts of the demo were in a shape that we were happy with. However, when the time came to pack up and leave for Saarbrücken, we still had quite a few loose ends to tie up. There were bugs, the music didn’t match the flow of the demo in some parts, and the final scenes and the ending didn’t fit together well. It was clear that a lot of work would still needed to be done at the party.
To make matters worse, on the drive to the party, the car that myself and oerg866 were sharing got rear-ended. There were no injuries, but the car was totalled and we were stranded in the Netherlands for many precious hours.
oerg866: While we were there, I managed to push code through a 3G network courtesy of Medo’s phone. We ensured Kabuto had the final version of my 3D logo scene (the one with the tiled head and the ‘infiltrating’ text) to be placed in the final demo sequence. To tell the truth, I would never have wanted to miss that experience. Things aren’t so bad when you’re in a tough situation with a friend.
I’m grateful that my parents were able to ditch all of their plans so they could pick us up and drop us off at the demo party location.
Medo: At the party, the closer the demo came to completion, we found that less and less of us could actually help. Figuring out the remaining important issues and finalising the timing of the last scenes of the demo wasn’t something that you could delegate easily.
Kabuto: When we arrived at Revision there was still a lot to be done. While we were finishing the demo I was surprised how well everything fell into place. Not even that car accident which caused important parts of my equipment to arrive late could stop us.
Once we had all arrived, everything seemed so seamless – oerg866 had the idea to add an outro to the demo (inspired by the credit roll of the ‘Desert Dream’ demo by Kefrens). TiTAN group member Lilibox did an awesome job of modelling those scenes. Despite my music code being a horrible mess, it didn’t fail and Strobe found enough time to expand the music sequence.
Medo: The deadline came, but we still needed more time. Fortunately, the organisers turned a blind eye. We were still able to submit the demo despite uploading the entry long after we should have.
I remember going up to the organisers to finally get the demo recorded, only three and a half hours before the competition was scheduled to start. When it was running and recording, a few organisers gathered around to watch. It was really elating, and we all had huge grins on our faces.
Kabuto: Finally! Our hardware was working flawlessly. Oh the look on the organisers’ faces! What a huge relief.
oerg866: It was so funny. The whole recording team applauded.
And so the moment arrived. Overdrive 2 was screened to the anticipating public.
Medo: There’s is nothing quite like seeing your demo in a competition. It was in development for years and I’d seen it countless times, but now everyone else had the chance to experience it for the first time. Watching it run on the huge screen, the powerful sound system of the party hall and hearing the cheers of the audience as they appreciated scene after scene was a great feeling.
The result? Overdrive 2 won first place in the Oldskool Demo category. And it didn’t stop there…
alien: Overdrive 2 won both Best Low-End Production of 2017 & Best Technical Achievement of 2017 at the Meteoriks Awards 2018, which was just the icing on the cake. Personally for me though, the true highlight was the Revision demoparty – although I wasn’t able to be there – seeing the reactions live on the stream made me very proud.
Back on the map
oerg866: I’m proud of the group and I’m proud of myself for being able to leave a mark on a scene full of people – legends – that are far more talented than I am. I have ultimately proven to myself that you don’t have to be the brightest programmer, graphician or musician to make it in the demoscene. Overdrive 1 was my child, if you will, which I poured my heart and soul into, and I helped with Overdrive 2 wherever I could. Being on the big stage – not only for winning the competition – but also for winning the Meteoriks awards a year later was more than I had ever hoped for.
Ultimately I’m proud of this chain of events and that it had such a massive effect on all fronts. Both Overdrive 1 and 2 have put the Mega Drive and TiTAN back on the demoscene map and have turned the group into one of the big players.
So, what does the future hold for TiTAN demo group?
Kabuto: Back when we wrote Overdrive 2, we were more than sure that this project was our last one. But in fact, our Mega Drive journey is still going on. We’re preparing the final version of Overdrive 2.
Plans for the final version include lots of effect improvements and glitch fixes, a 7 MB ROM size for better flash cart compatibility, but no NTSC compatibility.
People often ask why Overdrive 2 is PAL only. That’s because most of us (and the demoscene in general) operates in PAL regions. PAL also offers a number of technical advantages (more CPU / graphics transfer time per frame). Although we could fix Overdrive 1 for NTSC, for Overdrive 2 this would just be impossible to do without either a major downgrade of most of its effects or a shrinking the screen size.
I’m not sure about any further TiTAN Mega Drive demos – if there’s going to be any, they’d be small productions, nothing as huge as Overdrive 2.
alk: Definitely nothing as huge.
oerg866: Never say never!
Many, many thanks to alien, alk, Jorge, Kabuto, Medo and oerg866 and all members of TiTAN demo group for all their time, feedback, insight and fantastic imagery. Long may your exploration of the Sega Mega Drive continue!
Find TiTAN online at titandemo.org